Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve)

Riley’s Camp sits in a picturesque portion of the Ivanpah Mountains, surrounded by granite hills, joshua tree and juniper woodlands, various forms of cactus, and other desert scrub. Several dirt roads traverse the area, and abandoned mines litter the mountain side. A small community of ranchers and miners once made a community here, and at the helm of that community was a gentleman by the name of John Riley Bembery.

Riley was a World War I veteran. During his tenure, he was a medic in the US Army, and taught soldiers how to use explosives. This was a skill  that he put to good use upon arriving in the Ivanpah Mountain Range in the late 1920s.

After the war, Riley settled in Los Angeles, there he became a butcher. He made several trips to the Mojave Desert, getting bit by gold fever. Riley’s career and way of life would soon change as he left the city behind, and moved to the desert to become a full-time prospector.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – A peek inside of the assay office reveals several artifacts stacked on the shelves

 

In 1928 Riley placed claims for both the Boston No. 1 and Boston No. 2.  In 1929, he added the Sunset #2 and the Sunset #3.  In 1930, he placed a whopping nine claims, The Elizabeth, Ross, Standard 2 F, Number 2 Standard, Standard 2B, Standard 2D, Standard 2E, Standard 2BB, and the Standard 2 CC. By the time of Riley’s death in 1984, he had placed 56 claims (click here for a full list).

In 1934, Riley installed a 6-foot wooden cross at the top of Sunrise Rock on the behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The cross was to commemorate the soldiers that had died during WWI, something that was very close to Riley’s heart. Today we call the cross, The Mojave Cross. In recent years, legal battles have taken place to have the cross removed, it has even been stolen on an occasion. For more information on the Mojave Cross, please read my article about it.

Riley accomplished a lot in the desert, and he was well-loved and respected by those that he befriended.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - Inside the main cabin.

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – Inside the main cabin.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - Wood burning barrel stove installed inside of the cabin

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – Wood burning barrel stove installed inside of the cabin

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - More bottles, and other historic artifacts in the Riley Cabin

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – More bottles, and other historic artifacts in the Riley Cabin

 

His camp consisted of his home, which he kept modest with only the necessary conveniences, a small personal assay office, and a powder magazine for his dynamite.  He had a pet badger that lived under his cabin for several years, and was kind enough to feed the chipmunks, and rabbits that visited him.

In 1984, Riley passed at his daughters home in Norwalk. His remains were returned to his cabin, and buried with over 100 people in attendance.

In recent years, the main cabin has undergone a considerable amount of stabilization and restoration work. Folks traveling through are welcome to hang around, and explore the camp. The cabin is in good enough condition that many use it as a getaway cabin during their trips to the desert. The assay office is still standing, it has a true rustic charm. The shelves inside are stocked with artifacts found on the grounds by the casual visitor. Riley’s grave can be found nearby.

 

Riley's Camp (Mojave National Preserve) - Clothing line with an amazing view!

Riley’s Camp (Mojave National Preserve) – Clothing line with an amazing view!

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.